The earliest ‘classic’ cat book 1727

Les Chats by Moncrif
Les Chats by Moncrif. This illustration of Moncrif and a cat is from the Introduction by Edmund Gosse.
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Dr Desmond Morris, the renowned author of many books on animal and human behaviour including the definitive ‘CATWATCHING’ describes this book as a ‘classic’ cat book. But a bookseller has a different opinion (see below). I have scanned it and it is a classic cat book but not as we, today, understand the meaning of the phrase 😢😎✔️. It is called LES CHATS by Moncrif, Francois Augustin Paradis which was published in 1727. France today is not the epicentre of the cat world. That accolade goes to the US. But a Frenchman wrote the first classic cat book. It is one of the first books the subject matter of which was solely cats. It was translated into English by Reginald Bretnor in 1961. A long wait. It was published as a luxury edition by the Golden Cockerel Press in London and limited to 400 copies. A facsimile of this edition was published in New York, USA by AS Barnes and Thomas Yoseloff in London in 1965. It is called Moncrif’s Cats. It is on sale today in the UK for £26.65. The original French version costs £1,100 today in the UK.

Moncrif's Les Chats
Moncrif’s Les Chats

David Miles Books has it for sale at £1,100 and they say the following about the book:
“First published in 1727 Les Chats is one of the earliest books written exclusively about cats. Because of the fame of its author and the ridicule with which it was received (due to its subject matter) the book was immediately popular and is often erroneously considered the ‘first cat book’. Other early cat books are lost in obscurity, but Les Chats has become a classic in its field.”

It is described by the authors of the Ex-Classics website as “This charming book of anecdotes and poetry about cats….”. I have scanned the English translation and it is indeed about domestic cats including some history and information about cat behaviour. It is written in a very laborious and cumbersome manner by today’s standards as is to be expected.

Of course, it was written about 300 years ago which is about 170 years before purebred cats existed (the cat fancy). There is little hard knowledge in the book as far as I can see but lots of poetry and Moncrif was French writer and poet, of a family originally of Scots origin.

It is written as a series of letters and notes on the letters. These ‘notes’ are like postscripts.

See below for the English edition:

Les Chats by Moncrif
Les Chats by MoncrifLes Chats by Moncrif. This is the English version translated from the original French and published in 1961

Read the full book by clicking on this link.

Here is a taster – the First Letter:

“Did your heart throb all evening, Madame? They spoke of Cats in the
house I have just come from; they unleashed themselves against them,
and you know how hard it is to bear that particular injustice. I will
not report all the absurdities or all the vices of which Cats were

It would vex me greatly to repeat them.<1>

I attempted to defend their cause; it seems to me that I spoke sense,
but in disputes is this how we persuade people? It would have taken
wit: Where were you, Madame? I initially contested the arguments they
made, with the coolness and moderation which one should maintain when
expounding very reasonable opinions when they are not yet well
established in people’s minds, but an incident occurred that
completely disconcerted me: A Cat appeared, and at first sight one of
my adversaries had the presence of mind to faint; they got angry with
me; they declared to me that all my philosophical reasoning could do
nothing against what had just occurred; that Cats have not been, are
not, and never will be anything but dangerous, unsociable animals.
What pierced me with sorrow was that the majority of those
conspirators were intelligent people.

I must confide to you a great project, Madame. Among so many
memorable facts which people have tried to clarify and put in order,
no one has yet thought of preparing a History of Cats; isn’t this
astonishing? Homer found it worth his Muse’s while to describe the
War of the Mice and the Frogs. One of the chapters of Lucien, treated
with great licence, praises the Fly; and even Asses have had the
satisfaction of seeing a eulogy written.<2> Why have Cats been been
neglected? I would not be surprised if I had to resort to the
imagination in order to compose a work to their glory; but as soon as
we look at the Cats of past ages, what a crowd of events we discover,
each more interesting than the last. Before presenting this picture,
I would appear quite ridiculous if I dared propose that there had
been a Cat whose life was perhaps more brilliant and more star-
crossed than that of Alcibiades or Helen. However, if both have
ignited famous wars, if Helen saw altars raised to her beauty, such
advantages put them not in the least above a great number of he-cats
and she-cats who hold an equally good rank in the Temple of Memory.

The History of Cats should naturally arouse imitation by the most
illustrious writers. But since since such a history has not yet been
written, mediocrity of talent should not stifle zeal. I will dare to
attempt this work, and I believe I can be successful, if you promise
to help my enterprise. We will start by looking for the sources of
the false prejudice against Cats which is common here. We will
expound in good faith the insights we have gained from long
acquaintance with their affairs and from reasoning. We will report
the different forms which the interests of Cats have taken
successively among the nations, while keeping all proper precautions
to not revolt those people who have, purely through emotion,
antipathy towards them. We will always bear in mind that there are
certain natural repugnances, which according to Father Malbranche<3>
may be the effect of the unbridled imagination of mothers which has
influenced that of the children; or, as a famous English philosopher
explains it,<4> the result of nursery stories.”

2 thoughts on “The earliest ‘classic’ cat book 1727”

    • Yes, you can listen to it again but what I particularly like about books is that you can see every part of it at the beginning, before you start. You can see what is where and what it says which allows you to scan and locate the bit of information that interests you. Podcats are linear. You have to start at the beginning really and go through the middle and end up at the end. If you try and shortcut that process it may be more difficult to understand what is going on.


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